Prints - Profiles in profile
Let's be honest, over the years we've all bought one or two Squadron Prints - those aircraft profile prints that appear on many of the souvenir stands at airshows each year, and with what appears to be every RAF aircraft and squadron represented somewhere in the 700 subjects profiled since 1977. Some of us have acquired rather more than a few...
My own interest in Squadron Prints began back in the mid-1980s, parting with my hard earned paper round salary for a 32nd TFS F-15C print at the annual Swanton Morley airshow (another show sadly missed). I remember thinking if prints of my local Wattisham Phantom squadrons were available, not realising that even at that early stage most of the RAF's (and a increasing number of USAF) squadrons were already covered. That first print was the start of a collection that now numbers about 300, including a number of rare signed examples.
During a chance encounter at last year's Mildenhall Air Fete I was delighted to hear that Squadron Prints had relocated from Scotland to Suffolk, a move taking them from Glasgow to Haverhill - a town not too distant from the USAF bases at Mildenhall and Lakenheath. The company's new owners, Gill Howie, Steve and Gillian Arnott were keen for prospective customers to visit them at their new premises. Needless to say, it took me little under a week to arrange my first visit! My frequent visits to acquire the latest prints have given me a fascinating insight into how a aircraft profile is produced and distributed, a interest which the owners enthusiastically encouraged.
The first Squadron Prints print appeared in 1977, Glasgow-based artist Dugald Cameron teaming up with Alan Carlaw to produce the first subject, a Leuchars based 43 Squadron Phantom FG1. This profile would later be re-released on the company's tenth anniversary as one of the first signed special editions. Realising that a market existed for such profiles, where the units themselves would prove to be the major customer, they rapidly expanded beyond the Scottish based squadrons to the remainder of the RAF and RN. As the company's profile increased, so did the variety of its subjects, as soon USAF units based in the UK and Europe would also become regular customers. A range of Royal Navy ships was produced fairly early on, but has since been joined by railway locomotives, cars, tanks, satellites, and, I kid you not, a gramophone! Units from Canada, Germany, Norway, New Zealand, and the US Navy and Marine Corps have all joined the early customers in recognising the advantages of selling prints to the public at airshows while they are standing, admiring the real thing.
As one would expect, competitors soon began producing their own versions of 'Squadron Prints' profiles. These are however, clearly distinctive from the originals. A range of 'bookmark' sized prints have also been introduced by reproducing the more popular standard prints in a smaller, more manageable size. In the style of more traditional, limited edition fine art a range of special, signed prints has also been built up over the years. Each year various RAF display pilots sign a number of prints - occasionally arrangements are made for a whole squadron to sign a small number. An example of this is the hundred copies of the 1992 print of a 111 Squadron Tornado F3 that was marked with the signatures of all twenty-one squadron officers.
Regular customers include aerobatic teams - the Red Arrows have faithfully commissioned a new print every year, some of which are usually available signed by that year's team. Squadron Prints have recently pulled off the coup of a contract to profile the Royal Saudi Air Force's new display team, the Saudi Hawks beautifully painted green Hawk 65.
In early 2000 Squadron Prints changed hands, although Alan Carlaw still maintains a interest in the company and Dugald Cameron still paints the majority of the company's profiles (other artists do occasionally contribute). As previously noted, the company was acquired by Gill Howie, Steve and Gillian Arnott and moved to its new premises in Haverhill. With Steve's former service on RAF Tristars and VC10s, it is no surprise that the Brize Norton Squadrons are well represented within the company's range!
So how is a print produced? First, an agreement to produce a print has to be reached with a interested squadron, or customer. Although we all have our favourite subjects, and many people would, in particular, like to see more historic aircraft portrayed - it should be remembered that Squadron Prints do not choose the aircraft to be profiled. Each print is commissioned by a customer who decides what aircraft, badges and text will be shown on the final print. Even the combination of external stores, or if any are to be shown, is at the customers discretion. Wherever possible Squadron Prints would prefer to see the actual subject to be portrayed, although clearly for many overseas aircraft this is simply not possible and the artwork then has to be produced from photographs. In some cases this is certainly easier said than done when one considers the level of detail required - badges, aerials, stores and even aircrew positions all need to be photographed in great detail. Each commission is individually produced, even if the subject is a type that has been produced before, as careful examination of a finished print will always reveal subtle differences to the aircraft, be it colours, stencilling or external stores. One particular point the company stresses is that the artwork will represent the aircraft 'as seen'; if the subject is marked, weathered or stained - that's how it will appear on the print. To be fair, most aircraft are fairly clean when depicted, units obviously preferring to present their aircraft in a pristine condition. The prints produced for the Gulf Collection depict the aircraft, in particular the Tornados with their thrust reversers, in a more normal operational condition.
Once the artwork is completed, various details such as patches, badges and additional diagrams will be added. The recent Charleston C17 profile surely set a record in this area, with eleven unit badges present, as well as the Boeing logo, who sponsored the print. The final requirement is for the customer to provide the text to accompany the profile, usually a short history of the unit/aircraft. In addition, recent prints of RAF squadrons have included the unit's standard, battle honours and in some cases, motto. Once the final print, or 'proof' is completed a copy is sent to the customer to be checked, any last minute detail changes must be made now before being sent to the printers. A certain recent USAF F16 print did actually reach the printing stage before a error was noticed, the labelling for the additional line drawings of the units former aircraft having been reversed - and that was after the squadron had checked it!
Once printed the copies will be sold to the customer (the quantities vary, but usually at least 500) who will then sell them on to the public at air shows and various public events. A limited number of some of the signed specials have been flown with the squadrons concerned, one, the recent release of a Minot based B52, comes complete with a detailed description of the flight -in addition to being signed by the CO and the aircraft's crew. A future profile of a US Navy Hornet unit should include a small number which will have been carried by a F/A-18 during a catapult launch. Various other special issues are constantly being arranged.
Squadron Prints themselves stock their complete range of prints, as well as frames and binders which can be purchased via mail order. The Company maintains a web site with a comprehensive listing of the range, as well as forthcoming new releases. In a recent development the company has again relocated to Scotland, a move necessitated by Steve's acceptance of a 'proper' job in the Gulf. Gill Howie will still be attending as many airshows around the country as possible this coming year, including the Mildenhall event in May. It can safely be said that you will have to go a long way to find somebody more fanatical about aviation than Gill, whose enthusiasm clearly comes over at airshows. So, this coming season, when you visit Gill at the Squadron Prints stand, take a few moments to consider the amount of work and detail that has gone into the company's profiles.
For more information see the Squadron Prints website here. All prints come, of course, without the watermark!